Is a Mold Problem in Your Home Making you Sick?

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Mold contaminants in the air you breathe and on the surfaces you touch in your home can make you sick. One highly rated provider explains the common culprits.

Indoor air quality and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) are terms many people do not think about often, or they may not be familiar with these terms at all. However, contaminants in the air you breathe and on the surfaces you touch in your home can make you sick. 

If you feel ill when inside a location, but the symptoms noticeably improve after leaving the premises, you may be experiencing something called sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome means harmful exposures in the building are the cause of the adverse health effects experienced. Once the exposure to environmental contaminants has ceased, the symptoms typically go away. 

How do you know if your indoor environment has unhealthy contaminants causing sick building syndrome? 

The dangers of mold

Exposure to mold spores from indoor fungal growth occurs more often than people realize and awareness of it may not be known. Molds are microscopic organisms that originate outdoors, growing in the soil, plants, and other organic materials. 

Their spores infiltrate indoor environments via air currents and by surface transfer on clothes and shoes. Once indoors, the mold spores settle in the dust. If adequate moisture is available, the spores can germinate into new fungal colonies, producing multitudes of new spores that can become dispersed in the indoor air causing exposure by inhalation or by surface contact.

Sufficient moisture for mold growth can occur from a long list of possibilities, including plumbing leaks, rainwater entry from flooding basements, damp crawl spaces, condensation due to temperature differences, high humidity, roof issues, improper flashing and sewer backups.

Many individuals are allergic to fungi. When spores are inhaled, it triggers symptoms such as sinus congestion or asthma. However, it is also recognized that even people without allergies to mold can experience adverse health effects from fungal exposures if mold spores are the type that produce “mycotoxins” – substances that are toxic to one or more organs of the body. 

Problem materials

The building materials used today are highly susceptible to mold growth. Gypsum sheetrock used for walls and ceilings has paper backing on both sides. The wood used to frame a house is low density, coming from rapidly growing trees. Vinyl wallpaper is frequently used, which does not breathe and traps moisture behind it. Jute backed wall-to-wall carpeting is often installed. 

These are all materials that molds like to grow on if sufficient moisture is available. If the material contains cellulose (paper, wood, cardboard boxes, jute), the most toxic molds (black mold, chaetomium) have all the nutrients they need.

Symptoms to watch for

People often ask about the symptoms experienced from exposure to indoor mold spores. There are a wide range of health complaints reported, depending on the types of microbials growing (molds, yeast, bacteria) and the vulnerabilities of the individuals involved. The most frequently reported ailments include upper or lower respiratory problems (asthma, sinusitis, chronic cough, rhinitis, frequent sneezing). 

Other often reported symptoms include burning eyes, extreme fatigue, skin rashes, nosebleeds and headaches. Occasionally, people complain about fibromyalgia symptoms, joint pain, altered immunities, concentration and memory difficulties, nausea, psychological problems and/or hair loss.

If you suspect you might be exposed to fungal contaminants from indoor mold growth because you live or work in a location that has sustained water damage at one time, it would be very worth your while to test for abnormal indoor mold contaminants. 

Removing the problem

Please realize that even if a water problem happened a long time ago and the moisture problem has since been fixed, once the mold has grown, the threat remains until the spores are physically removed. The allergens and toxins are present on the outside of the spore, so it does not matter whether the spores are alive, dormant or dead. 

It is fairly easy to physically remove mold from non-porous substrates, such as plastic, glass or metal. The mold can be scrubbed off with an anti-microbial solution like 10 percent Clorox. However, removal from porous materials like sheetrock or carpet is much more difficult. 

Mold has roots (mycelia) that dig into the pores of these materials. Physical removal of the mold entails cutting out the damaged material and discarding it. It is highly recommended that the damaged material be bagged in plastic at the site of removal before carrying it out of the building so it does not shed mold particles and contaminate other areas on its way out.

After exposures to abnormal/unhealthy molds have been eliminated, symptoms typically resolve and quality of life can return to normal.

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About this Angie’s List Expert: Susan Flappan is the owner of MOLDetect, providing mold testing and remediation in Overland Park, Kansas. Since 1999, MOLDetect has specialized in mold investigations, do-it-yourself mold test kits, analysis of mold samples, indoor air quality testing and more. You can follow this #ALExperts contributor on Twitter @MOLDetect.

As of February 14, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie’s List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.

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